With little interest in riding on any coattails, Dario and Marco Zenker have never exploited their strong family connections to Munich’s electronic music community. Whether it was growing up around the individuals behind the Bavarian capital’s first Techno venue, Ultraschall, or early memories of meeting Techno luminaries at their family home, you’d be forgiven for assuming that they were already destined for careers in music during those early years.
In actual fact, their ascent comes off the back of their own endeavours and about decade since a long-running love affair with Techno first began, the Zenker Brothers have almost ingrained themselves into the very fabric of Munich’s Techno scene. From running virtually every aspect of their record label, Ilian Tape, to their output as producers both together and solo, the last five years have seen the duo come into their own and their success should be considered on its own merit.
Set to play secretsundaze’s 12 hour New Years Day spectacular and with a debut album on the way we felt it was a good time to sit down with the pair to talk about those early days, the state of Techno in Munich, Ilian Tape and impact their experiences and surroundings had on their work as artists and label owners.
Hi guys. I just wanted start by saying thanks for taking the time to talk to us. It’s best to start chronologically and it’s impossible to do that without talking about Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir.
Dario: Yeah, well Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir is a friend of our Dad’s. He stayed over at our Dad’s place when he was playing in Munich basically, so when I was around fifteen I came back from a Psy-Trance rave and I found him hanging out at my Dad’s turntable, listening to some Beatles recordings after playing a gig that night. Well I think I’d seen him before but at that moment he gave me a Akufen record. I still have that record and it was kind of a turning point because I’d never heard of music like that before and I think it influenced me.
Me: Were you aware of his standing within the Techno community at the time?
Dario: At that point? No, I had no idea. I was fifteen, sixteen years old, so I was a kid. I mean, Marco and I met a lot of these artists pretty early because they were all staying at our Dad’s place, like Shake Shakir, Jay Denham…
Marco: I was ten or eleven at the time, so I just played with a big black guy and had no idea who it was.
Dario: I knew that there were all these DJs staying there, but I wasn’t really interested and I really I had no idea what kind of standing they had. I mean, I knew they were from Detroit, because my Dad introduced us, but I had no idea who he was, or what he did and stuff like that. I was just a kid.
So Marco, were you solely focused on listening to Dub, Reggae and Hip Hop before you catching Dario’s set at Harry Klein?
Marco: I was really into skateboarding, so I was first really into Punk and Skate Punk. Then it changed into Reggae. I was always listening to Hip Hop though. Also, when I was younger, Dario and I had rooms next to each other with a thin wall, so I always heard the music he was playing. So he listening to all that Wu Tang stuff when I was ten years old and I really liked that kind of stuff, but then I was more into Skate Punk and then it changed into Reggae and Dub because I was also smoking a lot. I really didn’t have much interest in electronic music.
Dario, your first gig playing Techno was at Ultraschall aged eighteen. Was playing at a venue with such a legendary status at all nerve-wracking?
Dario: Well, I started to do my own parties when I was fifteen, but that was really Psy-Trance. When I was eighteen it was pretty much luck that I did a mixtape and I handed it to Upstart from Disko B and the booker back then heard it and he really liked it, so he booked me for Ultraschall with Acid Maria and the Hacker. Of course I felt really honoured, but I was still too young to really capture the history or really understand that Ultraschall was such a historic place. I was eighteen, I’d just come out of a different scene and I knew Ultraschall was a big club because it had existed forever, but I had no idea what impact it really had on the scene. I wasn’t really interested about it. It was another turning point, because since then I was really concentrating on Techno and House music and I started to produce my own music the same year.
On the other hand, Marco’s first gig was a live performance. Were you only performing live at the time, or were you playing records as well?
Marco: When I started going out I was already experimenting with music programmes and some Hip Hop stuff just for fun, but when we started going out regularly every weekend then slowly I started to try to make music like that. So my focus at the beginning was production, then Dario showed me some other programmes and I got really into that, but I didn’t buy records or start DJing or anything. I was really into production. I was really focused on that and I enjoyed that a lot and spent all my free time during school making music and not playing music or buying music really.
Of course I was also really interested in the artists and then when I saw a new lineup for the club on the weekend I would check out artists and check out the music and I got much more into the music as well and I discovered the history of it and stuff like that, but I was not interested in DJing because I was so hyped about producing.
You have stated in the past that you don’t have a preference over gear, new or old. Do you feel a producer misses out if they choose one over the other?
Marco: I think you can make really modern, fresh sounding music with the extremely old Roland gear. I think all these Roland pieces have a really, really deep soul if you use an old synth and if you have it over a period of time you realise that it changes. There’s really a lot of soul in these machines, because they breathe. That’s what I think is the difference to a plugin. A plugin doesn’t breath, but you can making amazing stuff just using computers. At the end of the day, I don’t think It’s really that important what gear you use, it’s how you use it and what you do with it. It just became a passion for us. I remember the first synthesiser I bought was the Juno-6 and it was really cheap and I didn’t even use it at the beginning. I just played around with it and then I think it slowly became an addiction.
Dario: It’s passion, but it’s really addictive too. We collect things and we really take care of them. We always say “Okay, it’s enough now. We have enough”, but it’s a never ending thing. We’re buying things all the time, selling things all the time.
Marco: One really important point is that it doesn’t matter if it’s old or new gear, but when you have gear you have something in your hands and you have a surrounding. If you have more gear machines surround you and I think that’s a totally different setting to staring into a screen. It’s just much more fun to connect different machines and twist knobs and see what happens when they play together than just looking at a screen and moving your mouse.
With your studio based in Munich, do you find the gritty, urban environment of Berlin is a more conducive setting to making Techno to the cleaner, refined setting of Munich?
Dario: It’s hard to say. Berlin of course is the mecha of Techno and we love Berlin. It has a special vibe that Munich totally doesn’t have, but I think the Techno that comes out of Berlin has its own sound. I think we just make different music. It’s just a different sound and maybe if we moved to Berlin it would effect our sound, or not. I have no idea, but especially that more relaxed, chilled, totally different vibe is influencing us to do what we do. Also, with the label you know… Ilian Tape hasits own sound and I’m sure Munich plays a big role in that kind of sound. Munich is a very green city with a lot of nature, so in the summer we’re always outside riding bikes, hanging out in nature. Swimming and stuff like that. I think it’s always influencing you.
Marco: Nowadays I think it’s changed because you can go on YouTube now and watch a documentary about Detroit and really dive into that mood and translate it. So nowadays, every kind of music can come from anywhere because you can take in so much influence and translate that.
Similar to the Detroit sound, Ilian Tape tends to push a music that can be found at the brighter, funkier end of the Techno spectrum. Did the early exposure to those Detroit artists set you off in a particular direction?
Dario: We’re both really big fans of 90s Techno music. Most of the modern Techno music is not reaching the heights of the 90s freshness and funkiness in a way, so Detroit always has a really big influence for us. We’re always trying to release music with soul. Not just in terms of melody and atmosphere, but always with soul and I think that’s what defined our sound in a way. Of course there’s a big, big Detroit influence when you hear it and not only in our productions, but also Stenny, Andrea, Sciahri.
The label’s roster is quite diverse in terms of the backgrounds of the respective artists. Are you going out of your way to find artists that suit the label, or do these connections tend to happen organically?
Dario: We’re not really looking for new artists, because we have a good group and some of them have several side projects. We have enough artists, but sometimes we check demos and sometimes we’re lucky. Sciahri was a really nice demo and we got in touch, but we’re not really looking for new artists. We do sometimes, but we have a really good group and we want to focus on that.
The first four Ilian Tape releases came out on vinyl. Were there any particular reasons behind switching to releasing your main catalogue digitally?
Marco: It was really the only way. We had owed the distributors money, so we didn’t have money to press vinyl anymore. Dario did the mastering for the digital stuff and Mueller did the artwork for free, so we didn’t have to pay for the production really and we could just put it out and try to get some money in from that to pay back our debt and that was really the only solution. Then we did the first Ilian Tape party in an underground warehouse kind of space and with that money we made the #5.
Dario: Once we paid the debt back to the distributors we just left them. We really didn’t want to stop.
With vinyl sales skyrocketing recently, are you tempted to start pressing your main catalogue on vinyl again?
Dario: No, not really. Some of them maybe, but we have new stuff coming at the moment. We press some of it, but we think it’s time for new things. We have so much new, good stuff going on, it’s not really necessary to do it I don’t think.
Marco: You can’t press twenty records a year. It makes no sense. At the moment we just have to find a way to release all that stuff, because everybody is working hard. Everybody wants to put out a record and that’s the really good state we’re in at the moment because we’re not looking for music and we’re not trying to think what we should do, but more trying to plan who’s in and everybody wants to be. There’s no space to release old stuff, because everybody’s working at the moment. It wouldn’t make sense.
This has been quite a busy year for the label having made eight releases over the last twelve months. What does 2015 have in store for Ilian Tape?
Dario: Our first album’s coming in February, then in March there’s a Stenny EP coming out, another Skee Mask and a solo EP of mine, and that’s the first half year already planned. At the end of the year there’s probably a Stenny album coming out and solo records from Marco and Andrea. Let’s see what happens. We’re also planning a compilation, like a double-vinyl compilation and that’s pretty much it. We don’t want to do too much stuff. If it gets much more you’re loosing the focus on the releases and we really take care of each release and take a lot of time to compile it.
Dario and Marco Zenker are playing for three hours on New Years Day for secretsundaze at The Laundry. Buy tickets here.
Photography: (Second and third images) Nadia Cortellesi